Today, they are mostly known as tasty ingredients for culinary experiences in the kitchen. However, for centuries, many herbs have actually been part of special traditions, rituals and ceremonies that has nothing to do with cooking. In this post, we serve you a fine selection of historical fun facts about your favourite herbs.
Holy basil rituals
Basil is said to have its origin in India – or perhaps even further to the East. Today, basil is one of the most popularly used herbs in the world, but over the years, the flavourful plant has also carried different symbolic meaning and played a part in all kinds of rituals. And by this, we are not exactly talking about pizza baking, although to many families, it can be the most sacred Friday ritual…
In old Egypt, basil was most likely used for embalming, as it has been found in tombs and with mummies. And perhaps it was also these embalming uses that made basil a Greek symbol of grief. Luckily, we have since then found more jolly applications for the delicate plant.
According to Jewish beliefs, basil was said to give strength while fasting. And in Portugal, the herb made up part of a gift for a sweetheart or lover at certain religious holidays. Even today, basil has many popular uses outside the kitchen: in perfume, for incense and herbal medicines, and of course in our sacred Friday rituals.
Thyme, tea ceremonies and traditions
Thyme is one of the oldest known herbs of today. In fact, more than 350 different varieties of the thyme exist across the world. The most commonly known kind, however, is originally from Greece, where the popular herb had several uses outside the kitchen.
To the old Greeks, thyme was primarily a symbol of elegance and class, but the herb was also used in medicine, for massages and bath oils, and as incense in holy rituals. It was even used in some funeral rituals, as a coffin filled with thyme was believed to guarantee safe passage to the next life.
In Siberia, thyme has long been used in so-called tea ceremonies. Here, tea is considered quite the delicacy, and drinking it after a nourishing meal is viewed as a sacred action. Thus, tea is often also served at business meetings and negotiations even today. And perhaps the Russian tradition is not that silly after all. In fact, the latest medical studies have shown that thyme can be used in the treatment of bronchitis, fungal infections and acne in the form of – you guessed it – tea and ointments.
Superstition from Mount Olympus
Oregano. The long favoured spice in the Italian kitchen – also called the pizza spice. However, the flavourful herb originally has its name from the Greek words “Oros”, meaning mountain, and “Ganos”, meaning joy. According to legends, the Greek goddess of Aphrodite created oregano as a symbol of joy and grew it in her garden at the Olympus. Even today, oregano symbolises happiness and health if carried around in a satchel.
Similar to many other herbs, oregano possesses a number of medical properties. Long before it found use in the kitchen, oregano was therefore used to treat eczema, flu, fever and allergies. Back in the days, it was also believed that growing oregano in your garden would protect your house from evil forces – and who wouldn’t want that? However, as opposed to the medical benefits of the plant, the latter has never been scientifically proven.